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Actor Danny Trejo grew up without his mother for most of his childhood, so he never knew much about her side of the family. And what she knew about her father’s side of the family didn’t give her much hope for her future.

So when the actor made a surprising revelation about his family’s origins on the Jan. 23 episode of PBS’ Finding Your Roots, he couldn’t help but wonder how it might affect his life’s trajectory.

Speaking to host Henry Louis Gates Jr., the 78-year-old says he grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by what he describes as toxic machismo. As a child, he felt that his career options were quite limited.

“The biggest problem was that all the men in my family did construction work and were always dissatisfied with their work. And they were always angry,” he tells the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The actor, who was never close to his father, instantly feels a kinship with one of his uncles.

“My uncle Gilbert, who was, for lack of a better word, a drug dealer, he never complained, so I kind of gravitated toward that,” Trejo says.

At the age of 7, the future actor was involved in drugs. By age 12, he was using heroin and committing robberies as a member of a gang. Gilbert died young, and Trejo could easily have followed the same path had he continued his life of crime.

But after a decade in and out of jail, he sobered up and began an acting career thanks to an unlikely visit to a Hollywood set where he caught the eye of a casting agent.

Speaking to Gates, Trejo says he doesn’t know much about his family’s roots, other than his ancestry. With the help of Gates, he learns that his great grandfather, Cirilo Garai, moved to America with his family in 1918.

Garai worked on a farm in Texas for low wages in harsh living conditions. Trejo says he never knew this part of the family history and calls the revelation “heavy.” But Gaara’s story continues. Two years later, Garay relocated to San Antonio, Texas, and his wife died. By 1930 he had remarried and owned both a home and a grocery store.

Trejo says he feels “proud” to hear the news and takes a moment to express his gratitude to his ancestor.

“Thank you for giving us all a chance,” he says. “I know a lot of people who fell by the wayside trying to get to California, so (our family) started.”

But that’s not the biggest piece of family history the actor reveals during his meeting with Gates.

The actor then learns about his maternal family and discovers that his maternal grandmother, Josefa Garcia, came to the United States from Mexico in 1904 and eventually became a citizen.

“It’s just amazing. I have a story.” He says.

Josefa Garcia was born on a ranch in San Jose del Cabo, now a tourist beach area in the Baja California region of Mexico. His family ended up in the area after Trejo’s fourth great grandfather, Luciano Agundez, was granted a large amount of land, 4,337 acres to be exact. Agundes established his own ranch. “He was a serious landowner,” says Gates.

Hearing the news about his family’s land past makes the actor happy.

“I’m just overwhelmed. You have to understand, growing up, I had three choices. I could have been a laborer or a gangster or an informant,” he says. “So to learn this, I honestly believe that I think this story could have changed the lives of my whole family.

Trejo, who has always loved Cabo as a vacation spot, can’t help but be amazed by the fact that he has always had ancestors from the place. “Just knowing when I went down to Cabo San Lucas, my family belonging to a part of that land…” he says.

Reflecting on his “Finding Your Roots” experience, the 78-year-old says he feels proud.

“I think it shed light on who I am, where I’m from and who I’m coming from,” he says. “I’m really proud of the whole deal.”


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